Author Archives: Michael

Madge Is For Sale

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.

I’m not quoting Peter, Paul & Mary. (Well, I am, but…) A lot has been happening on the land side of things over the past couple of months. The time has come for me to rejoin the active workforce. My initial plans to go back to the WBA (see earlier posts) did not come to pass, so I’ll be heading off to a different large airport on the West Coast. My new position is at a higher level of management than previous positions, and I’m excited about all the possibilities I face to make a positive impact on a critical piece of a major infrastructure redevelopment. The only problem is that I’ll be 2,500 miles away from the rest of my family for an extended period of time. Suzy will be staying on the East Coast, and our children and grandchildren will remain in Georgia and Florida. I foresee a lot of air miles in my future.

Unfortunately, this change means that not only will Suzy and I not be cruising anymore, we will probably not be sailing at all. I need to find a new home for Madge.

Just so you know, Madge avoided the devastation that hit St. Marys during Hurricane Irma. I had moved her from her mooring ball in the St. Marys River to the local boat yard the week before the storm struck — just a lucky coincidence as I prepared to move West. All but a couple of boats in the river, mooring field, anchorage, and even in the two marinas were either destroyed, heavily damaged or pushed up into the marsh by Irma. A friend who had tied his boat to our mooring ball lost his boat when a broken-off piece of floating dock from one of the marinas crashed into his boat and swept it into the marsh, with bowsprit and mast broken. We lost our mooring. But Madge stayed safe and sound in the boat yard, without a scratch. Our only loss was the line for our flag halyards. Both flag halyards chaffed, frayed and separated, leaving wisps of spidery filaments wrapped around Madge’s running rigging. Our mainsail and spinnaker halyards look like they’ve been decorated for Halloween.

I’ve just completed removing all our personal items from the boat and buttoning her up. The “For Sale” sign went up yesterday. If you’re interested, she’s on view at Saint Marys Boat Services on New Point Peter Road in Saint Marys, Georgia. Pictures of Madge and information about her equipment and systems are on the page titled “Pictures of Madge” on this website.

I spent years and significant resources getting Madge ready for our cruising. In the short time it’s been since we moved off her and back into our house, she’s begun to decline. She’s a well-equipt cruising boat and needs to be on the water. It doesn’t do the boat any good to sit on dry land, especially when she could be serving another cruiser so well. Madge has been the major underlying focus of my life (except for Suzy) for the past ten years. But the sad time has come for her to move on to be a part of someone else’s life.

April 14 – Columbus’ Ships

The Nina (left) and Santa Clara (aka Pinta).

We all learned about them in elementary school — the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The ships that carried the Spanish expedition headed to the Far East, but by chance bumped into the Americas. This past weekend, historically-accurate replicas of the 15th century caravels, Nina and Pinta, stopped in Saint Marys as part of a tour that began in Pensacola, FL, and will wind up in Newport, RI. Other stops in Florida included Venice, Fort Myers, Jupiter and Vero Beach. From Saint Marys, the ships head to Beaufort and Charleston in South Carolina, Wilmington, NC, Cape May, NJ, and Bridgeport and Hartford, CT, before arriving in Newport in June. The ships are presented by the Columbus Foundation.

As I mentioned in my post last year on the 17th century El Galeon replica we saw in Beaufort, SC, I’m a fan of old ships. The Nina and Pinta represent the oldest style of ship I’ve actually been aboard. They were much more primitive than El Galeon. The Nina is only 65 feet long, with a beam of 16 feet and a draft of 7 feet, displacing 80 tons. The Pinta is 85 feet long, 24 feet abeam and a draft of 7 feet, displacing 101 tons. According to the Columbus Foundation, Spanish ships were typically named after saints, but also had nicknames. They say that the Pinta was officially named the Santa Clara. We don’t know what the official name of the Nina was. (Wikipedia, however, says that the Nina was the Santa Clara, with no official name given for the Pinta.) Of course, the third Columbus ship was the Santa Maria (nicknamed Capitana by Columbus?). The Columbus Foundation does not have a replica of the Santa Maria. She ran aground on Hispanola on Christmas Day, 1492, and was abandoned, and there are no records of her dimensions or sketches of her style, though she is described as a carrack, which is an upsized version of a caravel. After three months of exploring the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, Columbus returned to Spain in January, 1493, joining the other 24 crew members aboard the Nina. The Pinta and her 26-member crew also returned home, but the 39 crew members of the Santa Maria stayed on Hispanola, founding a settlement.

These are some views of the Nina from the quarterdeck of the Pinta. Not only was the Nina built using authentic materials, she was built using authentic tools. The Pinta was built with authentic materials, too, but modern tools were employed. Maybe that’s why I liked the Nina more than the Pinta. Even though she was a smaller boat, she had a much nicer feel to her.

Some interesting views of the rigging on Nina. There was very little metal on the ship. I only saw the eyes in the deck where the stays for the mast were anchored. Everything else was either wood or rope. The large wooden 8:1 block was for hoisting the mainsail spar. There were no winches aboard, so this giant pulley was the only way of raising the mainsail. There was a similar 6:1 block for hoisting the foresail spar. The fender hanging off the side of the ship is one giant knot of rope.

If you are near one of the ports that these ships will be visiting this spring, I encourage you to take the time to visit them. You will get a great living history lesson.

Feb 26 – When Life Imitates Cruising…

We kept our 3 year-old grandson this weekend while his parents and older brother went out of town for a wedding on Saturday. Big Brother is the ring-bearer, so he has to be at the rehearsal Friday evening, as well as the ceremony. Mom and Dad figured they would be better able to fully focus on Big Brother’s performance in the wedding if Little Brother had something else to keep him busy. That something was a weekend at Cap and Mimi’s. The family raced through town on Friday afternoon to drop off Little Brother and the dog. We would keep both of them until Sunday. Of course, with it being the weekend before Mardi Gras, the visit coincided with our town’s annual Mardi Gras parade and festival. There would be plenty for us to do to keep our grandson occupied. The weather was warm and sunny, so we hopped in the golf cart on Friday afternoon and headed for the playground at the waterfront park. By the time the no-see-ums came out, our little super-hero was ready to head home. Fortunately, Suzy had stockpiled a lot of kiddie shows on the DVR, and between those and the toy chest, we made it to dinner and bedtime. It was a peaceful night for everyone but me. Being a poor sleeper to start with, and having a child and dog in the house, it didn’t take much to wake me up at every unfamiliar noise.

It wasn’t until I woke up worn out on Saturday morning that I realized there were similarities between keeping a 3 year-old for a couple of days and making an offshore overnight passage. Both require planning and good weather. Both are demanding of the crew. Both deal with unexpected small crises that require immediate attention, disruptions in sleep and meal routines, and both risk the possibility of a sudden squall. Both require patience, perseverance, focus and determination. Both leave you exhausted when the task is done, and require a couple of days for the crew to recover, and there is frequently a lot of clean-up and repair involved.

 

The Mardi Gras parade was the high point of the weekend. With fire trucks, bands, and two “pirate” clubs firing cannons, it sometimes got a bit too loud for our boy. We were in a good spot, though, and he managed to pick up a lot of beads. Then it was back home for lunch and a nap, before heading back out to the playground at the elementary school. Moving past the “24 Hours Away From Mom and Dad” milestone, we started seeing a bit of strain, but Suzy — calling on her career experience as a pre-school and kindergarten teacher — was able to forestall any major meltdowns before bedtime. Mom, Dad and Big Brother came by early Sunday morning, just as we were approaching the “Too Long Away From Mom and Dad” milestone, so we dodged a bullet and completed our task successfully. I have to give the boy credit, though. He handled himself well, behaved, obeyed, and was basically as good as you could expect from a 3 year-old. Just like an overnight passage, I’m sure the experience will get much better with age and practice.

As for Cap and Mimi, we’re now in clean-up, repair and recover mode. I’m sure we won’t be doing much else today. In a day or two, we’ll be fine.

One note about the parade. For some reason, the City chose a “Wild West” theme for this year’s Mardi Gras festival. Personally, I don’t get the connection. Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of some yacht club members in the parade, including our new Commodore as Mae West — a wild West if there ever was one. The club is fairly small, but enthusiastic, this year winning the Spirit Award. Last year, the club won for Best Display.

Feb 12 – And The Beat Goes On…

Well, it’s good to know that the cruising world is getting along fine without us this year. I’m jealous. The weather is so much better this winter than last, and I wish we had been able to leave with the rest of the fleet after Thanksgiving. But, we have other matters that have to be looked after, so it’s a mixed bag. I miss cruising, but I’m excited about the work possibilities I’ve heard about. If only the phone would ring. Anyway, I digress.

S/V Alibi II heading off to parts south…

A little over a week ago, Bess of S/V Alibi II called me to say that she and her husband Bill would be coming to the Saint Marys boat yard in a couple of days. They needed to haul their boat to repaint the bottom before heading to the Bahamas. Suzy and I had met the Alibis in Beaufort while we were riding out Hurricane Hermine. They were in the same marina that we took shelter in. They had wanted to come south and be in Saint Marys for Thanksgiving — they had been once before — but got delayed in South Carolina. (Hurricane Matthew damaged their boat.) Bess remembered my offer of free transportation for cruisers passing through, and also needed a place to have a package delivered. We were happy to oblige on both accounts. They arrived last Friday and began sanding and prepping the bottom of the boat. We picked them up later, delivered their package, and then took them for beer and burgers at the local pub. After we had been trading lies cruising stories for a bit too long, they finally wore out from the day’s exertions. We took them back to their boat around “Marathon Midnight” (9 pm), which is fairly late for active cruisers.

As an aside, let me say that I’ve been talking up our boat yard all up and down the East Coast. It’s a Do It Yourself yard, but you can stay on your boat while you work on it, which is great for cruisers because you don’t have anywhere to stay, and hotels kill your cruising budget. The yard has hook-ups for water and power, plus toilet, bath and laundry facilities. The yard is also well-equipped and very competitively priced. There are contractors of all types available to take care of any job you don’t want to tackle yourself. Everybody is friendly and helpful. I’ve been gratified to have guided a number of cruisers to this yard, and so far, each one of them has been just as impressed as I have been, including Bess and Bill now. All this is to say that Bess informed me of a couple more boats from Beaufort that will be heading this way in the next couple of weeks to make a brief stop at the boat yard. I’m happy to say that one of them is S/V Living Well,  crewed by Steve and Gloria. Steve was the dockmaster at Ladys Island Marina in Beaufort when we were looking for refuge from Hurricane Hermine. Had he not made room for us, we would’ve had a very hard time of it. Because we got into the marina, we hardly noticed the storm. And that’s how we met Bess and Bill. We will be looking forward to the Living Wells dropping by soon.

Back in the water…

Well, we had some rain blow through early in the week, and that delayed Bess and Bill in painting Alibi’s bottom. They missed their Wednesday target, but managed to get everything done in time to splash on Friday. I stopped by the yard on Thursday to offer a going away gift. We sat aboard and drank about half of the gift while the last coat of bottom paint dried. It felt good to be back aboard a boat that is fully stocked and provisioned for an extensive cruise. Every nook and cranny is filled. It may look crowded and cluttered to a non-cruiser, but it looks like the start of a wonderful adventure to another cruiser (especially a CLOD* like me). After a while, I began to feel guilty about distracting them from their work for too long, especially since they were heading out the next day, so I reluctantly said farewell.

Leaving Alibi, I was walking down the row of boats neatly stacked in their cradles when I came upon S/V In Ainneoin (pronounced “in an-YAHN”). I had met Lynn and David at the Thanksgiving event in 2015, and they had come back again this past year. (Actually, they’ve attended five of the last six years.) I saw an open hatch on the boat and knocked on the side. They were aboard, and so began another long discussion about boat work, cruising, people and places. I managed to spend the rest of the afternoon nibbling around the edges of the world of cruising. I guess if we can’t be out cruising ourselves, the next best thing is to be hanging out with our cruising friends, and living vicariously off their experiences. Some day, we’ll get back out there.

So, the cruising world seems to be getting along nicely without us. But if we can’t be out there with the rest of the boats, at least we’re in a good spot for our cruising friends to drop by and visit.

*Cruiser Living On Dirt

 

Feb 4 – A Belated “Happy New Year”

Well, here we are again. I’ve decided to keep the blog going at least until I go back to work. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. We’ll just have to wait and see.

We survived our trip during the holidays. In all we traveled a little over 2,700 miles. That’s just a couple hundred more miles than we covered while cruising, except we did it in 21 days instead of nine months. In all, we visited: our older daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters in Roswell, GA, where we spent Christmas; my older brother and his wife in Germantown, TN; my middle brother and his wife in Tallahassee, FL; Suzy’s mother, brother and extended family members in Shreveport, LA; Suzy’s sister-in-law and a nephew in Lake Charles, LA; Suzy’s cousin and her husband in Brandon, MS; Suzy’s cousin and her husband in Biloxi, MS; Suzy’s cousin and his wife in Hackberry, LA; a lifelong friend of Suzy, and his wife, in Shreveport, LA; our former pastor and his wife in Newnan, GA; and a former minister and his wife in Baton Rouge, LA.  We had a belated Christmas with our younger daugther, son-in-law and grandsons in Jacksonville, FL, after we returned home. It was a lot of driving, but we saw a lot of family and old friends, did a lot of laughing, and ate a lot of food.

Since the holidays, I’ve focused primarily on getting back to work… somewhere. I may be misreading the signals, but it seems my chances of returning to the WBA* may be slim. I have other irons in the fire, of course, but the preferred option has always been to go back home, and that means going back to the WBA, which would allow us to move back to our old home town, with our old friends and our old church family. But building airports isn’t something you can do just anywhere. You have to go where the work is. There appears to be a lot of work out there. I just don’t know which particular place I might end up. There is a non-airport possibility close to our old home. It is a kind of work that I have some experience with (but not a lot). I know the company and I respect the people I’d be working with. I’m grateful that they would consider me, but I’m not sure whether I could beat out other candidates for the job. But if I could land it, I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it. When it comes right down to it, though, running a project or a program is pretty much the same anywhere, whether it’s building an airport, or highways and bridges, or a harbor. Each one requires controlling four things — scope, schedule, budget and safety. If you can effectively manage those four things, you will always be in demand.

Fortunately, all the possibilities I’ve become aware of — airport or non-airport — look like they would offer exciting challenges. I’ve always enjoyed doing work that makes a difference, and when you do a large infrastructure development project, like upgrading a large international airport or building roads or bridges or harbors, you make a difference. And I want to tackle the challenges. I’m at an age where a lot of people are looking to coast into retirement. But the way I feel right now, I want to sprint to the finish line. I want to use everything I’ve learned over my long and varied career, yet learn still more. I want to use my creativity and imagination to solve new and unique problems. I want to lead people and mentor younger professionals. And then, in seven years or so, after I’ve poured out everything I have, I can blow out the seventy candles on my cake and feel like I’ve earned the right to rest.

*World’s Busiest Airport

 

Dec 5 – The End?

In a couple of days we’re heading out, by car, to visit family and friends, ending up at our older daughter’s house for Christmas. Our trip will include ten stops in five states over 21 days, and involve about 2,600 to 2,800 miles of driving. That amount of driving will equate to something like 50 hours behind the wheel. I’m sure that for many of those hours, I’ll be thinking, “Is this the end?”

I left my job in June of 2015 and — using the proceeds from the sale of our big inland house — established a budget that should have allowed us to live for two years in our smaller coastal house while we cruised our boat. I had planned to spend five months upgrading and preparing the boat, with the intent to head south with the cruisers who would stop in Saint Marys for Thanksgiving.  We would make our way down to the Keys first, then jump over to the Bahamas, coming back north in May or June 2016 before hurricane season. We would then head to the Chesapeake Bay, arriving in July to spend August and September exploring the bay. In October, we would head south again, to arrive in Saint Marys by the end of October, so I could work on the annual cruisers Thanksgiving event. After Thanksgiving, we’d head south again, maybe back to the Bahamas or to the West Coast of Florida. We would be back home in Saint Marys by the end of May. In January and February, while still cruising, I would call my contacts and send out resumes in an attempt to go back to work around the first of July 2017. If it took longer than that to get back in the workforce, my budget included several months of buffer to get us by, before we’d have to start dipping into our retirement funds.

If you read my Sep 22 post “Taking Stock,” you know that things didn’t quite work out as we planned. We won’t be sailing in 2017. Hopefully, I’ll be going back to work a few months early. If I’m working, we probably won’t be sailing any. (I tend to throw myself into my work.) That’s why it would be best to sell Madge. She’s a well-equipt, fully tested cruising boat now. If she sits for seven years, she won’t be worth anything. She’d have to be totally rebuilt. Suzy and I could perhaps charter in various places, like we did before we bought Madge. Or we could travel other ways. We still want to see new places. And, who knows? Maybe in seven years, we’ll get us a little trawler and cruise the ICW again. But seven years is a long way off, and we’re no longer young people. Cruising in your seventies is a lot different than cruising in your sixties.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Nov 29 – Seeing New Friends

The crew of S/V All In. Sorry, Bryan. You’re too tall.

One of the things I didn’t mention in yesterday’s long post about the Saint Marys Thanksgiving Cruisers Event, was that we got to see a lot of our cruising friends. Some of our favorites are the crew of S/V All In, consisting of Bryan and Laura, and their little girls Avery and Leslie. We had been receiving packages for a couple weeks on behalf of friends who would be stopping by over the holiday, including a couple for All In — so we were confident we would get to visit with them. They arrived on Tuesday after an offshore overnight passage, and were pretty wiped out, so we invited them to our house for lunch, laundry, and long hot baths on Wednesday. We have a tankless water heater, so we weren’t worried about running out, but — much to our chagrin — we discovered that the single-stem faucet in our guest shower had gone bad. We didn’t learn this until AFTER Laura had taken a COLD shower. She had started a load of laundry while Bryan took a shower in our large walk-in shower in the Master Bathroom. Then, she didn’t say anything about the cold shower until after she got out. I guess she thought we had run out of hot water because of Bryan’s shower and the laundry. Did we forget to tell her about our unlimited water heater? But even worse than inviting someone over for a long, warm shower and then they have to suffer through a cold one… Suzy had been telling the little girls that they could have a long, soaking bubble bath. They were so looking forward to it. To have to tell them that they could only take a shower instead was heartbreaking. But the girls took it in stride. Such little troopers for being only three and four years old.

Only one of their packages had arrived by Wednesday, and with Thursday being a holiday, we began to worry if they would get delayed continuing south. On Friday, we loaned them our golf cart so they could show the girls around town and go to the park. Still, their package did not come. Suzy and I felt bad for them, because most of the boats in town would be leaving on Saturday, and All In would be stuck waiting for their package. Bryan and Laura seemed to have resolved themselves to watching the other boats sail off without them, but fortunately, about mid morning on Saturday, the Big Brown Truck brought their last package. Bryan hopped in his dink and we raced down to the waterfront. We said our hasty goodbyes, and All In was able to get underway by noon. I had told Bryan on Wednesday about the free dock at Sisters Creek near Jacksonville, and we figured he should be able to get there by dark. We were happy to learn later that All In did get to Sisters Creek by dark, that there was room for them there, and that the other two boats at the dock had both just come from Saint Marys. They were “back with the herd” now, and should have a pleasant journey south.

One of my biggest disappointments about the Port of Thanksgiving event this year was that there were so few children. There were only nine total this year. Four were from the crews of two boats who drove in and out on Thursday, and three were from a boat that had to leave on Wednesday, which was just as All In was coming ashore. That meant that Avery and Leslie didn’t have anyone near their own age to play with. Having more boats with children participating will be a goal of mine during my tenure as Event Coordinator.

Nov 28 – The Port of Thanksgiving

Photo from Tribune & Georgian newspaperHere’s the myth: Sixteen years ago, some southbound cruisers were stranded by weather in Saint Marys over Thanksgiving. A couple of compassionate locals offered to provide the turkey and ham, the local hotel offered a place to get together, and the cruisers brought potluck covered-dish sides and desserts. They had such a good time, the cruisers and locals decided to repeat the event the following year, and a few more cruisers joined in. Thus began the annual Saint Marys Thanksgiving cruisers event, which has come to be known as “The Port of Thanksgiving.”

Here’s the reality: The waterfront hotel in Saint Marys has a quirky little saloon. Because it’s close to the water, it’s a great watering hole for cruisers passing through. Regular cruisers got to know the local barflys. The hotel would keep the saloon open on Thanksgiving, because the cruisers and barflys often didn’t have family nearby to spend Thanksgiving with. Sixteen years ago, the cruisers and barflys decided to have their own Thanksgiving feast together at the saloon. They had a good time and decided to do it again the following year. Cruisers. Food. Bar. You had to know it was destined for success.

One of the original cruisers taking part was a moderator of the “Cruiseheimers” SSB radio net, which is how cruisers communicated in the age before on-the-water cell phones, internet, email and Facebook. The Cruiseheimers net promoted the event, and that’s how word got out and the event grew over the early years. The Cruiseheimers moderators were the first to call the event “The Port of Thanksgiving.”

For the past 12 years, the coordinator for the event has been Ann of S/V Sea Tramp. Ann has been assisted by a small cadre of cruisers who are regular attendees. Last year, Ann, along with Mary of S/V I Wanda, tried to convince me that I needed to take a leadership role. (Mary was one of the Cruiseheimers moderators who helped promote the event in the early years, and because of the event, got to know the area, bought a house, and winters in Saint Marys.) The event has always been “for cruisers, by cruisers.” With more and more of the Old Guard cruisers dropping by the wayside each year, and the changing times as far as communications goes, the event needed to evolve into more of a “for cruisers, by local cruisers” event. Since Suzy and I are a couple of the few active local cruisers in Saint Marys, and Ann is worn out after so many years at the helm, she and Mary looked to me to take the lead. In a moment of weakness, I agreed. This year, I served as Ann’s assistant. Next year, I will be fully responsible.

The Port of Thanksgiving spans the entire week of Thanksgiving. Evening activities are held at Seagle’s Saloon in the historic Riverview Hotel on the waterfront. The days are spent in provisioning, some sightseeing, and informal socializing.

Statistics: This year, we had 192 cruisers, representing 95 cruising boats, participating in the event. There were 69 boats anchored in the river, 13 out-of-town boats temporarily hauled out at the Saint Marys Boat Services boatyard, and crews of 13 other boats drove in from adjacent states. Participating boats were flagged in 24 US states, four Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom. Local townspeople provided 13 turkeys and four hams. Cruisers provided all the salads, side dishes, desserts and bread. Members of the Saint Marys Yacht Club provide free tranportation, ferrying cruisers to grocery and hardware stores, department stores, laundries, for propane tank refills, and — this year — even to an Urgent Care facility, for a total of 35 separate trips over six days. In all 22 local townspeople supported and participated in the event, for a total number of 214 cruisers and locals taking part.

Over the past eleven years, not counting the first five start-up years, the Port of Thanksgiving event has averaged 188 cruisers per year, representing 91 boats, and a total cruiser+local participation of 212 people. The largest event to date was in 2010, when we had 277 cruisers, representing 133 boats, and a total participation of 309 people. The smallest event in the past ten years was in 2014, when bad weather limited the event to 130 cruisers, representing 56 boats, and a total participation of 146 people. This year’s event was just slightly over the average level of participation from the last eleven years.

Cruisers started arriving for the event on the weekend before Thanksgiving. There were unofficial, ad hoc socials at Seagle’s Saloon at five o’clock each evening. The official kick-off of the event was a Welcome Social at Seagle’s on Monday evening. There was a potluck Soup, Chili and Appetizer Social on Tuesday evening, and an Oyster Roast on Wednesday evening. After the Thanksgiving luncheon, there was an informal, unofficial hoc “open mic” sing-along in the hotel lobby, featuring cruising musicians and their instruments. Later that evening, the saloon re-opened for continued revelry. The official festivities closed on Friday evening with a cocktail party sponsored by the Saint Marys Yacht Club on the dock and aboard the yacht club’s clubhouse, a houseboat, in the west waterfront marina.

A number of boats resumed their southbound journey on Friday. Most of the remainder departed on Saturday. As of today (Monday), there are a few boats still hanging around in the anchorage.

It’s time to rest… and begin the work preparing for next year’s event.

 

Nov 13 – Robot Camp

Yesterday, Suzy and I went to Jacksonville to celebrate our oldest grandson’s birthday. He turns six on Tuesday. The boy is a big LEGO enthusiast, so his parents arranged a LEGO robotics party for him. Along with the usual cake and play activities party stuff, each child attending built a functioning, remote-controlled “Mars rover” model. To keep the adults occupied while the children were putting their robots together, there was a larger, more complicated robot to be built. Our daughter and I tackled this task. Though she is now a lawyer, she had wanted to be an architect when she was younger, and she has pretty good spacial recognition. It didn’t take much help from me, the engineer, for her to build the “adult” robot. I must admit that Suzy and I were surprised and impressed by this type of a party for young children. It was fun for them, educational, and challenged their abilities. I was also happy to see that the small group included a little girl, who held her own with the boys. I’ve been an engineer all my life, and the few women I’ve worked with are some of the best engineers I’ve known. I wish our culture could get over this idea that the female of the species can’t be good at math and technology.

Here are a couple of proud grandparents with their boys.

 

 

Nov 3 – Valley of the Sun

Suzy has a cousin who lives in Arizona, and I have a nephew there. We haven’t seen either in several years. After cleaning up from Hurricane Matthew and starting the early stages of work for the Thanksgiving event, we wanted to make a quick trip west to visit them both. We left last Thursday and returned on Tuesday, attempting to avoid what we assumed were the heavy crowds that typically fly on Friday, Sunday and Monday. It was a relatively short trip, but we had a great time.

We landed in Phoenix to find 100 degree heat. They may say it’s a “dry” heat, but it was hot just the same. There were few clouds and no shade except in buildings. We arrived just a couple of days after my nephew’s 30th birthday. He’s an archaeologist by training, but is currently teaching Latin at a high school in Tempe. The kid is just damn smart. We got together for dinner Thursday evening and enjoyed some authentic Southwest cuisine. It was really too short a visit, but the next day was a work day for him.

The next morning, we hopped in our rental car and headed north to Prescott. It was our first real view of the countryside from ground level. The most amazing thing about the place was that the predominant color was brown, instead of the green we are used to on the Georgia coast. There are few trees. There is no grass. There is no dirt. The rocks are brown instead of gray. The ground is covered with gravel.

To make up for the lack of ground vegetation and ornamental bushes, the interstates were lined with artistic patterns made from different colors of stones (mostly shades of brown). Once outside the Phoenix area, we left the interstate to drive through the desert, and then into the mountains. The landscape was just so foreign to my coastal eyes. No trees. The tallest plants were the saguaro cactus. We were told that they did not start sprouting their “arms” until they were at least 50 years old, which meant we were looking at some really old cacti. After a while, our route took us on a narrow, two-lane road that wound through some steep inclines and around sharp hairpin turns. As we climbed in altitude, the temperature decreased from the nineties into the seventies. At about 3,000 feet, we stopped seeing the ever-present saguaro cactus. When we got to the top, we stopped to look behind us. The view was breath-taking. Pictures definitely do not do it justice. We drove across the top of the high plateau into our destination of Prescott. The change in temperature was noticeable, and we were happy that we had packed our jackets.

Two old salts and one old cactus.

Suzy’s cousin Bill is originally from Baton Rouge, LA. His wife Robin is from Melbourne, Australia. A few years back they moved from Louisiana to Arizona. I have to admit, the high desert is a beautiful place, but it seems a very foreign place for someone who grew up in the pine and cypress forests of Louisiana to end up. In addition to long conversations catching up on all the happenings of the past few years, we did some touristy things. On Saturday, we headed back out on a tour of the nearby area. We stopped in Congress, AZ (pop. 1,700) for lunch, and finally got a picture of ourselves next to a big saguaro (suh-WAH-ro) cactus. Bill then wanted to show us the Joshua Tree Forest, so we headed a little farther south to US 93, which runs through the “forest.” I put quotes around the word forest because I would be surprised if there were more than a dozen of the trees per acre. The Joshua tree is a very unusual type of plant — it appears to be half tree and half yucca plant.

Joshua tree

Joshua tree leaves

The tree supposedly grows to a maximum of around 50 feet, but most we saw were in the 20-25 ft range. The area we were driving through was very dry, but there were numerous creek beds, with the vegetation clustered around them. I imagined that these gullies could be very dangerous places to be if there were ever  heavy rain, but then I wondered if there was such a thing as a heavy rain here. Whereas we could get inches of rain in a day in Saint Marys, it seems this place would be lucky to get millimeters of rain in a day — and I doubt they would get even that much very often. After driving several miles through the “forest,” we turned off US 93 onto State Road 97 and headed for Bagdad, AZ — which is a very small town with a very large copper mine. It was an interesting diversion, but I think the main purpose of the trip was so that Bill, a car enthusiast, could drive along the deserted, winding mountain roads. I probably would’ve wanted to do the same, had we had our little yellow convertible with us.

 

Sunday we decided to do something really touristy, and headed north to Williams, AZ. Williams claims the distinction of being the last town on old Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. It is also the home of a wild animal park called “Bearizona.” The weather had turned cloudy and cold, with a high in the middle sixties. There is a small zoo with animals native to the North American West, and a large preserve with separate habitats for bears, wolves, and herd animals like deer, antelope and bison. We arrived just in time to experience a free-flight exhibit of raptors (my favorite birds). The owls were so quiet they could fly over your head and you couldn’t hear them, but you could feel the wind from their wings. One hawk actually brushed the top of my head as it swooshed over me. After the raptor show, we boarded a bus and took a tour of the large preserve, which also serves as an animal rescue and rehabilitation facility.

 

Bill (left) with Suzy and me.

After our tour of Bearizona, we headed into downtown Williams to absorb a bit of the Route 66 culture. We were all old enough to remember the hit 1960 TV show titled Route 66, starring Martin Milner, George Maharis and a Chevy Corvette. And we knew that US 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. What we didn’t know was that such a culture of nostalgia had grown up around the TV show and the roadway. After the cold day in the park, we warmed up with coffee, tea and burgers at the car-themed Cruisers Bar & Grill (aka “Cafe 66”). Then, we picked up some souvenirs and looked at loads of Route 66-themed stuff in the Cruisers Gift Shop (aka “Gifts 66”). Suzy got a refrigerator magnet. I got a shot glass. Anything that you could imagine, capable of slapping “Route 66” on it, was in that shop, which seemed to stretch for half the block. They had lots of placards, license plates, posters, biker paraphernalia… and even Elvis (!) memorabilia. We finally pulled ourselves away and headed back to Prescott before it got dark.

We had nothing particularly planned for Monday. We were basically waiting for Tuesday in order to avoid the Monday crowds at the airport. So we caught a movie and had a quick lunch at the In-N-Out Burger. It was a good burger, but I’ll stick with Checkers. While Robin took Suzy shopping, Bill wanted to show me one of his favorite hiking spots near town. We ended up doing some fairly strenuous hiking around some pretty large rock formations. The views were good, though. Well worth the effort. My knees held out until we got back onto level ground. I was thankful for that. We ended up having a great dinner at a little joint called El Gato Azul, which featured a nice jazz combo. It was small and crowded, but the food was good, and it was still peaceful enough that we could carry on a conversation without shouting. Prescott is a nice place with a lot of pretty neat stuff, but I realized that there was something about the place that didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t the lack of trees or the color of the rocks. It finally struck me that there were no black people there. There were whites and Hispanics, but we hadn’t seen an African American since our arrival. It was like half the palette of color in the world was missing. In my town, in my workplace, in my circle of friends, there are always black men and women. It seemed odd that they should not be in Arizona.

We had no trouble driving back to Phoenix and catching our flight back to Jacksonville on Tuesday. We touched down at JAX around midnight, but we were still on Arizona time, so it was no problem. We had a good trip, but it was nice to be back in our own beds.